Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
It’s not all that uncommon for publicists to bring “the talent” through town on press tours to promote a movie. It’s pretty rare, though, that a studio will invest the time and energy in sending out the troops a second time to promote a DVD release. But that’s precisely what happened in 2007 with Walden Media’s production of Bridge to Terabithia.
I was lucky enough to have been invited to talk with then-young stars AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson to delve into their experiences with Bridge to Terabithia, which is now available on Netflix.
I met the pair in a downtown Seattle hotel suite, with a friendly publicist hanging out with us as we talked. And… spoiler alert! This is serious talk about what the movie is about…
GW: So I have a confession to make… Sometimes in this business we all just do things because we have to.
Anna-Sophia Robb: Yeah.
GW: And editors agree to do interviews just as a way of filling up space. And to be honest, that’s kind of what I did in this case—because I hadn’t seen the movie! I just wasn’t expecting much. But now, having seen the movie and having liked it, I’m probably expecting too much.
Josh Hutcherson: Cool!
ASR: I’m glad you liked it!
JH: High expectations are sometimes good.
GW: As you know, entertainment that’s geared toward families and children can often just be cheesy.
GW: And not very challenging.
JH: This is very real. That is, besides the imaginary creatures that comes to life.
ASR: And that’s as real as a child’s imagination.
GW: And what makes the portrayal of that imagination so much more powerful is the reality of the situation that these kids are in, and the way that it’s presented.
GW: The lighting, production design—everything is very realistic, even the way that you two portrayed your characters. Very believable young people.
ASR: Well, we are young people.
GW: That helps, doesn’t it?
ASR: Yes, yes it does. It helps.
GW: Now, just so you know, at Past the Popcorn we don’t bring up issues of faith and spirituality unless the films we’re talking about do. So if the film doesn’t want to talk about faith, we don’t talk about faith either. We talk about what the film wants to talk about. Terabithia is kind of an interesting one—
JH: Kind of borderline.
GW: It is. It’s about a lot of real, everyday sorts of things, but then it very explicitly brings up issues of faith.
JH: And in a very controversial kind of way, too.
GW: Potentially, yes. So I’d like to talk to you guys about some of the spiritual things that the film brings up—but if I start taking the conversation in a direction that you’re not comfortable with, just feel free to put on the brakes.
ASR: Yes. Thanks.
JH: That’s cool.
GW: But to start with a more generic question, I’ve noticed that both of you at least seem to be very particular about the projects you choose.
GW: How do you manage the process of choosing what you do and what you don’t do, presuming that it’s not yet become “just about the work” and careerism for you?
ASR: Well, first of all, I definitely choose my projects wisely because I have a life. Josh does too, obviously, but I go to school. So the first thing we do is read the script. And we ask, as a family, is it a good character that I’m being offered? What people are attached to the project? Is it a story worth telling? Is it worthy? Is it smart? Can it help people in some sort of way? Even if it shows a darker side of life, does it help people understand those sorts of situations? Or does it make people laugh and help them forget about their own situation a little? Then, our final decision is: Is it worth being out of school, being gone from home, and away from my puppy, and my dad, and my friends.
JH: And your mom.
ASR: Not my mom.
JH: Or do you put your puppy before your mom? Uh-oh. You’re going to be in trouble!
ASR: “It’s just going to make me bitter!” No, my mom travels with me.
JH: I go about it a similar way. We read through the script and see if it’s going to be a good character and a good storyline. But I actually go with my movies pretty much based on the characters. As an actor, I want to find roles that are challenging, and very different than anything that I’ve done before—or different from myself quite a bit. And that’s how I base my decisions for movies.
ASR: Yeah. Good characters, too, if I failed to mention that.
GW: Well, nobody bats 1.000, but by and large you both seem to have succeeded in making wise choices about your projects—films that have not only had a measure of success, but have also been positive…
JH: Feel-good kind of—
GW: Well, I was going to say “feel-good,” but that’s not what I mean exactly.
JH: I know what you mean.
GW: They have constructive things to say.
GW: Heart-felt, maybe.
ASR: Well, two movies that I’m coming out with, they’re different—West Texas Children’s Story [Have Dreams, Will Travel] and Ferris Wheel, which is now called Sleep Walking. They’re two very adult films. West Texas is about these two kids who go on a journey, and my character ends up kind of unraveling as you find out about her past. And Ferris Wheel is just a really harsh story about a dysfunctional family. But they both have “good” endings: they have hope. But it’s kind of like real life; they’re real-life stories with good characters. And in West Texas, the kids have each other, as hope.
JH: For me, I recently did a movie called Winged Creatures, and that movie is by far—or may be—one of the darker movies I’ve ever seen. It delves into a random diner shooting, and how people’s lives are affected and changed by post-traumatic stress after the event. My character becomes kind of catatonic—he doesn’t talk for half of the movie, and he’s really depressed. It was a really challenging role for me to fill, and I’m really excited for that one to come out. And there’s some Academy Award nominees in it, and it’s a great ensemble cast. I’m really excited about it.
GW: Then it sounds like everything is just kind of on an arc in that direction for you two, because those elements are there in Terabithia, too—just kind of in a lower-key fashion.
ASR: Just not in such a harsh way.
GW: Yes. Leslie dies—but it’s not like they force you to watch it happen.
ASR: It’s more poetic.
GW: And Jesse has to deal with the stress of it.
GW: The grief and everything.
JH: Yeah. I was talking with the producer and the director, and we talked about the “stages” of dealing with grief: from denial to anger and hatred, to acceptance, and then remorse or whatever. And we tried to show that progression with Jesse as well as we could, tried to keep it as true to life as it is. And I haven’t had any deaths in my family, or anyone as close to me as Leslie was to Jess, so I didn’t know how to deal with that, personally. So it was kind of cool—I could find out through my character how people tend to deal with grief, both in unhealthy and healthy ways.
GW: Obviously, one of the big themes in Terabithia is expressed in the theme song, “Keep Your Mind Wide Open.” The idea of possibilities, that there’s more to life and experience than just what you see. Was that one of the things that drew you to the script, or did that just develop for you as the project went along?
ASR: It kind of— Well, it kind of— Both. It kind of came to me as a surprise. The script talked about the importance of imagination to kids, how it keeps them young. But that theme came out in the movie through talking about being accepting of other people, and of who they are—that every person is special and an individual. You can’t change somebody. They are the way God made them. So you need to accept them, and you can learn things from them, if you just keep your mind open.
JH: And a big part of the attraction for me was the fact that these kids do use their imaginations. So many kids today— My little brother fell victim to this, but he’s finally getting out of it: the video games! And computer games, and TV. Now, you can’t knock TV too much: Keep watching TV, people! But so many kids are just trapped indoors; but this film said, “Look, kids! See how much fun Jess and Leslie had outside. You guys can go outside!” When I was younger, you couldn’t get me inside. From sunup to sundown, I was outside, playing kickball in the street, playing army men with my friends. I was always outside. It was cool to get to play a character like that, and in that way, Jess was a lot like me. And that’s a cool message for kids, that you can get out there, and you can have fun outside.
GW: And not just the physical outside, but the mental outside as well.
JH: Yeah, that’s it.
GW: And it’s not just kids, either. There are so many adults who are bound by the “realities” of their situations and forget that there are possibilities.
JH: There are always possibilities. And you always have choices, too.
ASR: Yeah. Even little, everyday choices. With Leslie, it’s how willing she is to help people. So if you look at that, it’s just little things—like if someone drops some change and you pick it up for them. Just showing little signs of kindness. That can make a big difference on people.
GW: In the DVD extras, you talked about how you saw Leslie as being a carrier of light, that she had this light that she brought to the people around her. Where does that light come from in a person? Why is it that Leslie has it, and maybe another person doesn’t?
ASR: Part of it’s God-given, and part of it is that some people are just special like that. Some people are the carriers, and they give it to other people—and some people are the receivers, like Jess. And when other people see that, they say, “Wow! That’s special. I want that, too.” And they become receivers; and then they become carriers.
GW: And then Jesse ends up doing the same for somebody else.
JH: It has an awful lot to do with your outlook on life, too. Leslie’s outlook on life is very positive, obviously. She’s very open to new things, and Jesse is kind of closed off from the world, and his family and four sisters. Four sisters! I have one little brother—I couldn’t imagine four sisters! So his outlook on life is very closed off from what it could be. So Leslie brings that light in to him, and exposes him to how much more life could be, and what he has.
GW: One of the ironies about “possibilities” for me is that a lot of people tend to view religion and faith as an institutionalized means of controlling people, and shutting down possibilities.
GW: And of cutting people off from all of that stuff.
ASR: Well, it depends on what you believe.
GW: And that’s the strange thing. Because where I come from, and my experience with religion, is that faith is what frees us. That’s what’s allowed me to see that there are possibilities outside of myself. So when I get in tough situations, faith says: everything’s an option. We can’t just assume that there are things we have to take off the table because of convention, because of other people’s expectations, or whatever. We can say, “No. Everything’s an option.” And we might not choose some of those options; but that’s up to us. But if we become satisfied with where we are, it makes it hard to see that there is something better.
JH: Yes. You’ve got to have goals and expectations— But not even goals, because once you reach your goal, you’re done. You’ve got to always be looking for something better, always looking for the greener grass on the other side of the fence. And people usually look at that as a bad thing, like people not being satisfied with what they have and wanting other people’s stuff. But it’s really a good thing, because if you’re always wanting something more, you’re always progressing forward in your life.
GW: Yes, not being complacent or satisfied with “good enough,” or “bent on getting by” as Switchfoot put it.
JH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ASR: It’s understanding where you want more, but knowing enough to know what’s good enough. It’s a hard thing to explain.
GW: The Bible describes God as the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” So there’s not only the human aspect of acknowledging that there’s possibilities and choices, but then there’s this God thing outside of that. And He’s got better ideas even than anything that we could come up with. So in Terabithia, it’s a really bad thing that Leslie dies—
JH: Right. It’s a bad thing, because Jess and Leslie are really good friends. But by Leslie dying—now, she helped open his eyes—Jesse’s eyes are completely opened up. It made him realize how valuable life is. In one second, you find something that you love and care about has been taken away, like that! So he learns to value life that much more—and then he’s able to pass that on. He’s able to say, “This was something really special that happened; and because of her death, I feel like this has to be carried on!” And he’s able to give that to his little sister.
ASR: And it makes him independent.
JH: I think everything happens for a reason; that’s kind of my thinking. So if I don’t get a movie part, it’s because I was meant to be spending time with family instead, or I was supposed to be at a soccer game so I could help my team win—or lose, you know!
GW: As long as you do your part, and do the best that you can.
ASR: Exactly. Everything else will work out.
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